The Re-Opening of Jesus' Tomb! (And Other Mysteries of the Faith)

February 5, 2017

 

Summary: Skeptics have sometimes attempted to avert the implications of the strong historical case for the Bible by insisting that history, as a discipline, cannot be directly observed. Yet a closer look at the views of many leading scientists today suggests that the universe itself may also be fundamentally unobservable. This article assumes the view that (1) scientistic grounds for questioning history are invalid and (2) history may justifiably be taken as seriously as modern science. In the process, false epistemologies are critiqued. Readers are called to discern the proper place and role of history.  

Re-Opening Jesus Tomb

 

On October the 31st of 2016, National Geographic published an article bearing the headline: “Unsealing of Christ’s Reputed Tomb Turns Up New Revelations.” [1] National Geographic writer, Kristin Romey, covered the exhibition, bringing it to light. The project successfully exposed to plain sight the empty tomb within which the body of Christ had 2,000 years ago been laid.

 

The full undertaking lasted some 60 hours. The work crew was dispatched from the University of Athens. Upon opening the tomb, archeologist, Fred Hiebert said: “We can’t say 100 precent, but it appears…that the tomb has not shifted…” [2] Popular Jewish paper, the Haaretz, likewise commented that the marble slab covering the cave had now been safely removed. [3] Israeli news contributor, Nir Hasson, stated that the holy site was exposed to “…a billion Christians across the globe.” [4] 

 

The momentous discovery therefore seemed to contradict certain earlier claims of another noted “religious” finding. In 2007, blockbuster director, James Cameron (Titanic), had filmed what he believed were the genuine burial remains of Jesus. Partner documentarian, Simcha Jacobovici, revealed the questionable evidence before a wide-eyed watching world. Time Magazine later called the find “debatable,” for which reason the article ended with the words: “Your move, Mr. Titanic.” [5] 

 

It is thus no great secret such discoveries are held in suspicion. Many question how it can be known that these artifacts are genuine. Indeed, National Geographic itself candidly admits, “…it is archeologically impossible to say that the tomb…is the burial site of…Jesus…” [6] A lengthy list of Catholic relics furthers the case for doubt. Skepticism of venerated objects is, after all, centuries old. As the reformer, Martin Luther said: “It is claimed that the head of…the Baptist [lies] in Rome, although [history shows] that…John’s grave [was] burned [into] powder.” [7] 

 

Assessing New Evidence

 

For this reason, it might surprise some that this heavily trafficked site actually claims exactly the kind of evidence Luther himself might have demanded. The tomb was recently reopened in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has long attracted pilgrim’s known to frequent such locations. According to trusted Roman historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, the emperor Hadrian buried Jesus’ tomb in the 2nd century. [8] He did it to strangle belief in Jesus’ resurrection which had spread throughout the empire, threatening the Roman peace. 

 

But Hadrian’s actions succeeded in nothing of the sort. Instead, the location of the tomb would continue to be known for centuries. For although burying the tomb could have eternally obscured it’s locale, amazingly, Hadrian erected a temple to Aphrodite in it’s place! For this reason, following Rome’s historic turn to Christianity, Hadrian’s temple was razed to the ground and the vacant tomb, re-discovered. This lead to the construction of yet another temple in it’s place which—take your guess—is known to us today as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre!

 

Such an astonishing history seems to verify the find, a point which former city archeologist, Dan Bahat, was forced to concede. He openly admitted, with little qualification, “…we really have no reason to reject the authenticity of the site.” [9] It would thus appear that the new discovery is presently incontestable. No alternative location lays a greater claim to history. It is quite simply an unparalleled find, possibly the greatest of the century, and a startling evidence of the Christian faith. 

 

But that of course doesn’t mean that the skeptic man or woman believes it. Artifacts affirming history, for doubters, are normally unpersuasive. The reasons why are not only rooted in antipathy to religion, but are also founded on the modern concept of science trumping history. Hence, convincing Luther of the tomb of Jesus would be a trifling issue, a mere matter of furnishing a credible history to the find. The modern skeptic on the other hand is not nearly so easily convinced. He rather insists all proofs be based on science instead of history. 

 

“You Can't Know the Past!"

 

Some time ago, I encountered this problem personally. I was speaking with a stranger in a coffee shop on the Bible’s radical claims. I had grounded my presentation on the record of it’s histories, when suddenly the man objected, declaring: “I don’t accept your proofs!”

 

Questioning the man’s reasoning, I quickly gathered why. He obviously viewed science as the only road to reason. Since history fails to meet the check of empirical testability, then history, as a source of knowledge is less reliable than modern science. Similarly, the man also chose to lightly shun the scriptures. He denied their ability to offer facts which may be “proven.” For he held that all ancient texts are generally unable to properly accredit their own innermost claims. 

 

Thinking such as this is common in our time. It is a byproduct of the many incredible advances of our age. In fact, it has become so strongly believed so as to be taken as a justification for rejecting alternative forms of knowledge. Scientist, Stephen Hawking, therefore more recently issued the claim: “…philosophy is dead. [It] has not kept up with modern…science…” [11] He then went on to boldly (albeit naively) declare: “Scientists have become the torch bearers of discovery in the quest for knowledge.” [12]

 

Incredibly, such statements fairly represent the norm. They have garnered broad acceptance, earning thoroughgoing acclaim. They arrive to us today as a throwback to an antiquated set of views, previously held by thinkers in the earlier part of the 20th century. Prominent among them, philosopher, A.J. Ayer, summarized these views in his book, Language, Truth and Logic. He later admitted that it was a “young man’s book” written with “more passion than most philosophers allow.” [13] Ayer writes: 

 

“[We]…maintain that no statement which refers to a ‘reality’ [beyond] the limits of…sense experience can possibly have any literal significance; from which it follows that the laborers…have been devoted to the production of nonsense.” [14] 

 

Such a bizarre outlook seems to dominate our world. Radical uncertainty clutters every corner of culture. This is only made more clear by the work of historians such as Hayden White, who now asserts that historical texts should be treated as literary fiction! [16] For the same reason, philosopher, Patrick Gardiner also questioned: “In what sense can I be said to know an event which is in principle unobservable, having vanished behind the mysterious frontier which divides the present from the past?” [15] 

 

Reclaiming History

 

Grasping the man’s point, I therefore now sought to refute it. I challenged him to soberly consider the consequences of such a belief. For the sacrificial loss of rejecting our grounds for historical knowledge would be the vast disappearance of all our antecedent histories. No one could any longer speak of our common prior beginnings. Substantive, meaningful reflection about our past would cease to continue. Any hope of learning from our remotest mistakes would become a frivolous exercise in bottomless, vain conceit. 

 

I therefore questioned the man: “If you are right, then what is history? How could we prove, for example, that George Washington even existed? It just seems to me that if we fault our knowledge of history as technically uncertain, then there is nothing to prevent us from concluding that the past itself cannot be known.” Shockingly, the man seemed all too ready to concede my point. Void of the faintest shadow of reluctance, he willingly agreed. He assented to an opinion once held by atheist philosopher, David Hume, who rejected Christianity for being less provable than the evidence for our senses. [16] 

 

Unfortunately, the man was also unaware of the gaping hole in his reasoning. He was blinded by a view of science which scientists themselves now reject. For if disqualifying history as non-empirical were justifiable, then the same argument would also serve to disqualify science itself. Returning to Stephen Hawking, in one of his latest books, the theorist muses: “Until…[recently]…it was…thought that…our knowledge of the world could be obtained…through our senses. But the spectacular success of modern physics has shown that this is not true.” [17] 

 

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate Hawking’s point would be to sketch a simple illustration: Human beings used to believe that wind was the work of the gods—now we understand that wind is the work of energy differentials. But the concept of “energy” is simply a theoretical and mathematical abstraction. There is no way to “prove” that energy actually exists. Therefore, the man who rejects history because it can’t be directly observed may also have to deny other truths we simply take for granted. 

 

Consider for example philosopher of science, Bas van Fraassen. He is widely held to be one of the greatest practicing philosopher's of the past half century. In a September 2016 issue of the magazine Nautilus, Fraassen was interviewed on the subject of science and realism. Writer, Peter Byrne, recorded the interview, noting one of van Fraassen’s most far-reaching assertions, that experimental data is nothing more than “…an observable fragment of a fundamentally unobservable universe.” [18]

 

This, incidentally, is the very conclusion Hawking defends, that the universe, practically speaking is unobservable. For in his own words, Hawking writes: “…the universe has no…independent existence.” [19] It is therefore up to the scientist to simply assume it—indirectly. This is fundamentally no different from the work of the historian. Belief in the claims of the past is a simple rationale leap of reason. It is inferred on the basis of overwhelming evidence, drawn from universal human experience. 

 

I therefore urged the man to drop his faulty line of argument. I attempted to show that the Bible’s record can indeed be trusted. Sadly the man failed to agree with my point, that science offers no reason it’s methods should somehow outweigh history. For scientific methodologies are equally riddled with assumptions, apart from which, science, as a discipline, could not function. Those who believe otherwise do so despite the best evidence that current, cutting-edge thinkers are now beginning to show us. 

 

The Wind of the Spirit

 

In conclusion then, we look to the words of Jesus Christ himself spoken in the fourth and final gospel of the Bible. To Nicodemus, an early skeptic, Jesus explained: “The wind blows where it pleases. You hear it’s sound, but cannot tell…where it is going. So it with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8; NIV). May we therefore learn to understand these words. And may we do so in order that we may trust them. For the sake of his great name, we pray it. Amen. 

 

——————--

End Notes: 

[1]. Unsealing of Christ’s reputed Tomb Turns up New Revelations; National Geographic; Kristin Romey; Oct. 31st, 2016. 

[2]. ibid. 

[3]. Resurrection Reconstructed: Jesus’ Tomb Opened For First Time in 500 years; The Haaretz; Nir Hasson; Oct. 29th, 2016.

[4]. ibid. 

[5]. Is This Jesus’ Tomb?; Time Magazine; David Van Biema; Feb. 26, 2007.

[6]. Unsealing of Christ’s reputed Tomb Turns up New Revelations; National Geographic; Kristin Romey; Oct. 31st, 2016. 

[7]. Martin Luther's Works, Vol 54.131. 

[8]. cf. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 13 July 2005. 

[9]. Unsealing of Christ’s reputed Tomb Turns up New Revelations; National Geographic; Kristin Romey; Oct. 31st, 2016.

[10]. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow; The Grand Design; Bantam Books; Random Publishing Group, New York City. Copyright 2010; pg. 5.

[11]. Alfred Jules Ayer; Language, Truth and Logic; Second Edition; Dover Publications Inc. New York, 1952; Introduction, pg. 5. 

[12]. ibid. 

[13]. A. J. Ayer; Language, Truth and Logic; First edition; Penguin Books; Random House Inc.; Copyright 1936. pg. 14

[14]. Patrick Gardiner; The Nature of Historical Explanation (London: Oxford, 1961), pg. 35.

[15]. Haden White; “The Burden of History”; Tropics of Discourse: Essay in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1978), pgs. 27-50. 

[16]. David Hume; An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding; Hacket Publishing Company; Indianapolis Indiana, Copyright 1993. Essay: Of Miracles: Part 1.

[17]. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow; The Grand Design; Bantam Books; Random Publishing Group, New York City. Copyright 2010; pg. 7.

[18]. Why Scientists Should Steer Clear of Metaphysics; Nautilus; Peter Byrne; September 8th, 2016. 

[19]. Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow; The Grand Design; Bantam Books; Random Publishing Group, New York City. Copyright 2010; pg. 6.

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